Blending Learning All the Ways

Blended learning doesn’t have to mean a combination of hands on and technology based learning. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. To me blended learning balances all the things! I believe blended learning means educators are spending time providing students with hands on, emotional, self guided, outdoor, projects, technology, physical movement, and creative learning throughout the day. I give my students a lot of choice and agency during the regular school day. At the beginning of the year, I spend a lot of time talking to kids about how to make choices.

True blended learning provides and equitable learning experience for kids because you are taking care of the whole child. Educators should be getting to know their students on a personal level and providing opportunities for students based on their interests. During remote learning, I discovered on a phone call with one of my students that she has been watching “old Disney movies” a lot and one of her favorites to watch over and over is Alice in Wonderland. Because of that, I made sure that my time lesson included a white rabbit with a clock. She recognized the connection right away and even asked me if it was there for her! This tells me that my kids KNOW to look for ways the lessons I plan for them specifically connect to themselves or their friends.

Hands On

It’s no surprise that kids learn best from hands on experiences. We all use manipulatives on a daily basis. It is important for kids to build concrete understanding through manipulating hands on materials like magnetic letters or letter tiles, counters, legos, playdough, etc. These materials are always available to my students in my classroom to use throughout their day.

Emotional

In my classroom we begin each day with a morning meeting. We sit in a circle and greet each other, check in to see how we are feeling, take time to share important artifacts or stories, go over the plan for our day (especially when things vary from the ordinary), and move! I also set aside time for a a weekly community building circle in which we focus on something that came up that week or a specific topic so we can get to know each other better. We use talking pieces to take turns and have a centerpiece in our circle with important community building artifacts to remind us of past conversations or shared experiences. You can see our centerpiece below.

Self Guided

Providing students choice and agency over their learning is important to me (and them). Students already have agency but they need opportunities to practice it in a safe environment. I provide those opportunities though flexible seating, genius hour, and allowing students to choose how they respond to learning (worksheet, technology, creation). Response to learning choices aren’t always possible, but when they are I provide them.

Outdoor

I get my kids outside whenever possible! Obviously, outdoor recess is a daily occurance (weather permitting). In addition to that I take kids outside to read or to practice word work or math using sidewalk chalk. We go outside to observe our shadow, organisms, earth materials, and to collect samples. We are fortunate to have a school garden so every spring, my students take over one of the beds and plant seeds to care for.

Projects

Projects and Project Based Learning (PBL) are a great way to get student buy in to learning. PBL is multidisciplinary and allows kids to connect their learning across subjects. They practice skills and gain knowledge through real world, rigorous tasks. Kids take ownership over their work and and learning is sticky. You can check out some of the projects I’ve done with kids here.

Technology

Typically when people think about blended learning they are referring to the use of technology in the classroom. I’ve shared about my technology integration here.

Physical Movement

I incorporate movement regularly during our day through movement breaks using both guided movements and fun dances on Go Noodle. Some my favorite and quickest movements that I get kids doing are crossing the midline movements. I direct kids through touching their opposite knee and elbow. This is great because there is a lot of brain research behind having kids cross the midline. I also add yoga poses into lesson activities. This is a photo of a “scoot” activity. In a scoot activity, I put problems or tasks around the room and kids start at one and “scoot” around the room until they’ve completed all of them. They carry a recording sheet around with them on a clipboard. This is a math scoot activity where students were solving story problems that are all about fruit trees. I taught them tree pose and had several stops around the room where students needed to hold tree pose while they counted by tens to a certain number.

Creative

Allowing kids time to create is also important to their learning and development. In my classroom, I have a makerspace to allow kids to build and create during projects, centers, and soft starts (the beginning of our day).

School should be a balance of all the ways kids learn best. If there is too much of one thing, the day can be monotonous and you run the risk of not reaching all learners. Changing things up keeps the classroom fun and interesting and helps to reach every child and grow the whole child.

What else do you think is important to blend into the school day?

Gently Down the STREAM (soft starts in K and 1st)

Seriously! I love these additions to STEM! Reading and art are also important to 21st Century learning and broadening students’ experiences. I plan fo regular STEM challenges with my students but STREAM is my way to make sure my students are getting daily doses. I shifted to soft starts about a year ago when I was teaching kindergarten. I read Purposeful Play (read my reading reflection) and decided to include soft starts as a way to have more opportunities for play for my students. This decision was affirmed after reading The Curious Classroom which dedicates an entire chapter to soft starts.

Soft starts are a way to begin your day. Rather than assigning morning work for students to complete as soon as they walk into the room, they engage in playful, open-ended activities. I decided on incorporating soft starts because morning work seemed like busy work. Because the students who really NEEDED that extra practice rode the bus that was last to arrive at school and went directly to breakfast. Then they walked in the room with minutes to spare before the late bell rang and began their day already behind their peers.  I empathized with them. How stressful for a 5-6 year-old to begin their day at school already rushing to catch up and more likely to miss some fun thing because they needed to complete some worksheet left by the teacher. I no longer saw any benefits to the extra practice I was giving in the morning.

My first go at soft starts, I allowed students to choose right from the start. I know that student choice is huge in their feeling important and successful. I wanted them to spend their time doing something they wanted to do. We already had daily free-choice play in the afternoon so it was easy to open those centers first thing in the morning and allow the same choices. I noticed quickly that many of my students wanted to work on technology (iPads, computers, or BYOD). I wanted them to use this time more for collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking which they were not doing on technology individually so I closed that for morning play centers. I was honest with my students, this morning playtime was good for them, but in order for them to keep it going, they would need to be respectful of their time and stay engaged and clean up quickly when it was time. I didn’t want this to run into the other work I had planned for the day. There were a few times where something didn’t get cleaned up correctly or quickly enough and the consequence was that center got closed for a period of time. I was still concerned that my students who needed this the most were the students on the last bus and eating breakfast in the cafeteria. I still don’t know what to do about that, but at least they weren’t starting their day already lagging behind their peers.

This year, I’m teaching first grade and don’t have access to all the play materials that were in my kindergarten classroom. 😔 I had to change the way I did soft starts to work with what I have. I saw someone on Twitter sharing about STREAM (which was the first time I had seen reading and art added to STEM) and realized this was where I needed to take my soft starts. I made a STREAM to put in my students’ cubbies so they could keep track of which choices they were making. These are laminated and student cross off each one with a dry erase marker after they complete it. Then once they have spent time at each one they can erase and start over.

STREAM

I chose to make open-ended materials available to my students rather than specific STEM tasks because I give them specific challenges at other times. I was hoping they would take those experiences and extend them during their STREAM time. I store most of our materials on a shelf in my room we call the “Innovation Station.” Materials are marked with the letters of STREAM that I think it fits, but I’ve had students tell me they think something matches one or more than one of the areas, I will label it for them. I want them to know they have input in our classroom too. Below I’ll go through some of the materials we have in our STREAM centers.

Science

  • magnets
  • shells
  • magnifying glasses
  • kinetic sand
  • Playdough

Technology

  • iPads
  • computers
  • ozobots
  • Chrome books

Reading

  • classroom library
  • read aloud bin
  • Student book boxes
  • big books
  • Sign language materials
  • Literacy centers (from another part of our day) are also a choice
  • Students also use this as an opportunity to change the books in their book bins

Engineering

Art

  • construction paper
  • crayons and makers
  • pipe cleaners
  • beads
  • clay
  • playdough
  • legos (because)

Math

  • math manipulatives
  • worksheets that come pre-copied from my district (I was recycling ones we didn’t use and they were pulling them out of the recycle bin to complete for fun. So, I added a bin for worksheets they could choose from.)
  • tangrams
  • Math stations (from our math block) are also a choice

Let me know your thoughts on STREAM centers or soft starts in the comments below!